A friend of mine works as a marketing director for a nonprofit with a stagnant board of directors. The by-laws stipulate board membership be drawn from the regional service-based organization that founded the nonprofit more than fifty years ago. As a result, the governance structure has evolved into an insular board with life-time terms. The good news is board members take pride in their involvement with the nonprofit based on its mission, and they have a strong passion for the founding organization. The board is also fortunate in that the nonprofit is well run by a dedicated professional staff.
The bad news is staff members have to work around a board that has become complacent. As long as the nonprofit is thriving, the board is comfortable with its oversight. Board leadership is not interested in how it can improve its governance and support. So the executive team leads the organization by focusing on the mission as it tolerates a board that has “a golden operation in their hands and do not understand what to do with it.”
As mentioned earlier, this nonprofit is doing well except for the executive team’s frustration. Passion for and commitment to the mission sustains these staff members … for now.
Effective board member engagement is more than just showing up at board meetings and talking up the nonprofit. It also involves a commitment to improving its governance and collaborative relationship with staff. As well run as my friend’s nonprofit is, it could be so much more with a fully engaged and mutually respectful staff-board partnership.